James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson, 27 April 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson

RC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Written by Theodorick Bland and signed by Bland, JM, and Meriwether Smith. Docketed, “Virga. Delegates Letter recd. May 81. April 27th.—AD.”

Philadelphia April 27th 1781


Having discovered that there were a considerable number of Rampart Arms belonging to the U. S. at this place, which have long lain dormant, (having been supposed useless for the Field,) we have found on enquiry that with a small alteration, and fixing Bayonettes to them they are capable of being renderd exceeding good Field Arms; & knowing the necessity of the State for a Supply of that article we have been extreemely desireous to have them alterd and Sent on with all possible dispatch; we flatterd ourselves that this might have been done expeditiously by the Intervention of some Virginia Merchants who had money in this City which they offerd to dispose of for the purchase of the Arms from the Continent; to have them fitted and transported at their own expence, and on their arrival in Virginia giving the State the offer of them upon terms yeilding them a reasonable Profit for their trouble and expence in so doing; but when they gave in their proposals to us in writing, we were extreemely sorry to find that what would yield them a profit, (far short as they informed us of what might be obtaind by vesting their money in other Articles of Commerce,) greatly exceeded any allowance we thought ourselves Justifiable in agreeing they shd. receive, especially when we considerd the low1 condition of the treasury of the State, and that we must engage the faith of the State for the Immediate advance of one half the Money, and the payment of the other half on the delivery of the Arms.2 This determined us to embrace an Alternative, which we hope in the End will prove more Eligible; we have in consequence of that determination procured an Order of Congress to the board of War to have two thousand Stand immediately alterd and fitted up for field Service, to be forwarded with all possible expedition to Virginia and the remainder to be sent to Maryland and North Carolina.3 In order to accelerate this operation, we must entreat your Excellency to devise some means of furnishing to the amount of 1,300 Pounds hard money or its Value in Paper,4 such as will Circulate in this State; without which we find it will absolutely be impracticable to carry into execution a measure which will be productive of the greatest advantage to the Southern States, for want of some fund in this City we have often found ourselves greatly embarrassed, and frequently absolutely prevented from expediting Succours of whose consequences we are fully apprized to the Southward, and are extremely mortified to find frequently that a very small Sum which would, by being advanced to Waggoners &.c. set them at work; it is neither in our power to advance nor procure, either on our own or the States Credit—it being absolutely impracticable to5 negotiate a Bill we cannot but think it highly proper to fix an Agent for the State in this City, to be furnished with remittances for such purposes, and to transact many other usefull pieces of Business for the State which not only lays greatly out of the line of the delegates duty, but frequently prevents them from bestowing the necessary attention to the more important interests of the State and of the Union in General. Your Excellency will be at no loss to concieve why a remittance of the above Sum for the present occasion is highly necessary and expedient when we inform you that from the tardiness of the States in general to pay in their arrearages of taxes, from the impediments to the Issuing the money according to the Resolution of the 18th of March 1780,6 and from the daily expenditures for carrying on the war the Public treasury is at this moment left destitute of a Single Shilling and has large demands on it which have anticipated what will probably come into it for some months.7

we are with the greatest respect Yr. Excy’s most obedt. Srts

James Madison Junr.

Theok. Bland

M. Smith8

we have enclosed yr. Excy. a Copy of the agreement we have been necessitated to enter into in order to ensure and expedite a measure which we are Sensible is of the utmost importance to the State9

1After “low,” Bland wrote and crossed out “state,” and then interlineated “condition.”

3See Virginia Delegates’ Agreement with Cowell, 27 April 1781, n. 2. This directive, as printed in the journal of Congress, does not mention Maryland.

4Virginia paper money had depreciated at this time to £100 for £1 in specie (Henry Phillips, Jr., Historical Sketches of the Paper Currency of the American Colonies, Prior to the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 1st ser. [Roxbury, Mass., 1865], p. 202). On 12 April, Foster Webb, Jr., commissioner of the treasury, informed Jefferson that, at the official ratio of forty to one, there remained only $950 in the state treasury (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , V, 428).

5After “to,” Bland wrote and crossed out “advan[ce].”

6See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 48–50. On 23 June 1781 the Virginia General Assembly provided for the further issuance of up to £20,000,000 of paper currency and “for calling in and exchanging this state’s quota of continental money.” The latter statute repealed the section of an earlier law which had directed the treasurer of the Commonwealth to give one dollar of the new emission for forty dollars of “the old continental bills” and furthermore forbade him “for any cause whatsoever … except by the directions of the executive or the legislature” to pay out any of the new emission. This prohibition is probably explained by an entry in the journal of the House of Delegates on 30 May 1781 that “by the sudden depreciation of the continental money, large sums are likely to be brought into the treasury to be exchanged, by persons not being citizens of this State and others, whereby great injury is likely to accrue to the State, in issuing the new money of Congress at a great depreciation, in depriving the State of a possibility of paying a late demand of Congress, and in preventing the citizens of this State from getting what money they may be possessed of redeemed” (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 412–13, 430–31; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , May 1781, pp. 7, 32).

7As an illustration of the desperate need for money, it was reported to Congress on 18 April 1781 that the requisition of 15 January 1781 upon the states for about $880,000 “for the immediate pay of the arrears due the army, has not yet been complied with” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 415). On 1 April 1781, of about $246,275,000 unpaid to Congress by the states, Virginia owed over $36,400,000 (NA: PCC, No. 34, fol. 310½).

8Someone—probably a librarian at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania—put an asterisk before Meriwether Smith’s name and wrote after the postscript: “Merriweather Smith of Essex Va. Contl Congress from 1778 to 1782.”

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